Black Box

Get this: I just found out last night that there’s going to be a new TV drama series called Black Box, about a famed neuroscientist who has a magic touch with out-of-control patients and a big, bad secret: she suffers from bipolar disorder.

Naturally, I’m looking forward to the premier because I want to see how the producers handle bipolar as part of the story line. I know a little about the show Homeland with Claire Danes, but not being a subscriber to Showtime, I’ve never seen it. Black Box will run on Thursday night at 10 PM.

I hope this series will portray the character of Dr. Catherine Black as realistically as possible. I’ve seen a few previews, and from what I can tell, her manic episodes are pretty extreme. She has a very maternal psychiatrist (Vanessa Redgrave) who warns her in one clip that if her disease were to become known, she could lose her job; while I hope that scene doesn’t reinforce the stigma that’s already out there, it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence in the working world.

Basically, I hope the show won’t be a rewarming of old stereotypes of bipolar individuals as fragile people who are apt to spin out of control at any time. I remember when Sally Field played Maura Tierney’s mom in a recurrent guest role on ER a number of years back; her character was also bipolar and she was always weeping, threatening suicide, running away, or slobbering all over her daughter and begging her to forgive the latest bad behavior. I think Ms. Field did a great job with the material she was given to work with, but the overall picture left a lot to be desired.

Then there was a character on the spin-off of Gray’s Anatomy, called Private Practice, who was violent and completely unpredictable whenever she was manic. Again, this did nothing to help ease the judgmentalism attached to mental health diagnoses, and I was relieved when they finally carted the poor woman off to the hospital for the last time. (And that was before I knew I was bipolar myself.)

Now, I know it’s got to be difficult to portray a serious mental illness sensitively while making it authentic and even gritty, like it is out here in the real world. Bipolar disorder is hard to fathom even for those of us who live with it; for those who don’t, it’s impossible, so producing a TV show whose lead character has it must be extremely challenging. I do hope the people in charge of this one have done their homework, for it could literally help lead the way to social acceptance of mental illness as a legitimate medical problem and give hope to millions of sufferers.

That’s a tall order, even for a drama series dealing with some pretty serious issues aside from the lead character’s mental health challenges. The show starts April 24th on ABC. I’ll be there. 🙂




Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

15 thoughts on “Black Box

  1. Did you see A Beautiful Mind? Russell Crowe played a schizophrenic college student just past the prodromal stage and later as a professor full blown. My wife and I saw it and when we left and went to the car, we sat in silence for 5 or 10 minutes speechless. It was so close to our son’s schizophrenia. It helped to understand early on what we were facing. It would be great if they made one on bipolar. I read the book Electroboy. It was a good read and at the time my depression was so bad, I asked my pdoc to send me for ect. Also visited on Electroboy’s web site and he helped me in saying that it would take away the depression.
    Back then they were considering his book for a movie and if enough interest is stirred in the public, I bet there is a chance they may consider it again. Glad you are feeling better and you’ve gone sane again, I pray for a long, long stretch.


    1. Oh yes, you can be fired, if you can’t do your job without accommodations. It’s amazing how ‘toothless’ the ADA is. It didn’t help me one iota when I lost my executive level nursing position because my employer decided they couldn’t give me accommodations for my illness. I was very sick about a year ago and had to go out on medical leave for several weeks; when I returned, I was let go. I probably could’ve fought it, but I was still really unstable (I almost had to go inpatient) and just didn’t have enough energy to pursue it. That’s why I didn’t ask for accommodations when I took the job I have now, even though I could use some. 😦


  2. I find it problematic that the media only desires to display the extremes. I had a chance to potentially work with a documentary being done over here, but when I was told they were looking for Bipolar 1 and rapid cycling ‘because people don’t know about those’, it went right in the bin. No, you’ve just told me you’re specifically trying to find the people with the biggest, most dramatic responses possible and I can’t even brain how to respond to it without setting everyone near me on fire from the heat of my rage. ¬¬ Come, sit with me during this depressive spell. I won’t say much ’cause I’m warring internally and not trying to cry. Oh wait, not dramatic enough? Well, 10 GOTO 20 20 DIE IN A FIRE, and so on. *sighs*


  3. This is a great blog and an interesting post! Half of me hopes this show displays the extremes to demonstrate to the public how serious mental illness can be, but the other half of me hopes this show demonstrates how strong, normal and functional people with mental illness can be to help remove the stigma. Either way, I’ll definitely be watching! 🙂


  4. I’ve watched Homeland and sometimes it is a realistic portrayal. I’m not sure Claire Danes character could be as high functioning with as many manic or depressive bits they show. But I still think the show gets the word out and helps reduce stigma. Didn’t know the new show gas a bipolar character. Now I’m even more interested!


    1. I’m a little concerned that the manic episodes seem pretty extreme from what I’ve seen in the previews. I hope it doesn’t make people even more leery of us or add to the stigma. Sometimes a realistic look at things can create a backlash, and Lord knows we MI folk don’t need more of that.


      1. That’s for sure! I find that most books and movies and tv that try to show bipolar tend to show out of control mania because it makes for good drama and intensity. Rarely see depression, which has been my problem. And rarely see balanced, medicated, high-functioning.


  5. Funny you should mention that! My next post is about being a high-functioning bipolar. Hint: It’s not very balanced, even though it *is* medicated. LOL


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